Thursday :: Mar 19, 2015

MSNBC About To Be Gutted

by Deacon Blues

According to a piece from Politico today, MSNBC is about to undergo a shake-up. This is good, because the personality-driven approach installed by MSNBC president Phil Griffin over the last five years has failed. But rather than retooling MSNBC into an actual center-left news and opinion alternative to Fox, NBCUniversal’s corporate parent Comcast is about to eviscerate any chance at keeping the network as a real center-left news and opinion alternative.

Griffin admitted several years back that his post-Olbermann approach was built upon establishing a following of MSNBC personalities among primarily younger viewers, as if the 45-and-over news consumer didn't matter. The assumption was that even if younger viewers wouldn't care about the actual news, they'd tune in every day to see Chris Hayes and Rachel, and the cool kids on "The Cycle". But what Griffin produced was a daily regurgitation of issues and storylines across all shows, helmed by different hosts with their own weaknesses.

Rather than covering a broad cross-section of daily domestic and international news, MSNBC has followed the sensational and shallow repeatedly into the ground. You could be certain that stories about race, gay rights, ISIS beheadings, and marijuana legalization would be covered by all their shows, starting with Sharpton’s all the way through O’Donnell’s “Last Word”. But God help you if wanted to hear about actual international and national news of the day from an informed center-left perspective. (You'll recall that Olbermann's "Countdown" covered five stories of the day every day). And now Comcast is about to make sure that in the guise of returning MSNBC to a news-oriented focus, several “personality-first, news-second” center-left hosts will be tossed aside to make way for safe, corporate news shows.

And that misses the point of what’s wrong with the network, and ignores the main difference between the MSNBC viewer and the Fox viewer. Unlike the average Fox viewer, who willingly listens and watches hours of content designed to tell conservatives what they want to hear, that they are all victims in a “us versus them” world, center-left viewers have no desire to chain themselves to their seats for hours at a time for content that drones on and on attacking people. Center-left viewers will take their news quickly, with an edge that cuts through spin and with some humor if possible (see “The Daily Show”). So now Comcast is about to give us NBC News and the Beltway view on a cable channel, thinking that being more like CNN will get them viewers that used to be with MSNBC in the Olbermann glory days.

What they need is Olbermann, or a new version of him, to anchor the nighttime line-up with an actual news show that appeals to center-left viewers. But Comcast would never go there, because this is not about holding onto center-left viewers, this is all about making MSNBC safe for the boardrooms and airports.

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